Asylum seekers: Why should Australia shoulder our burden?

Published: July 25, 2013
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We have failed to protect Hazaras; this is more despicable than Australia's reluctance to grant asylum to them. PHOTO: REUTERS

Australia has recently come under fire for its new policy regarding asylum seekers attempting to enter the country without a visa.

According to their prime minister, this policy is an attempt to ‘curtail the record number of people attempting the dangerous boat journey to claim asylum’. From now on, people arriving on refugee boats at Christmas Island will not be allowed to disembark and begin the procedure for resettlement in Australia but instead will be sent on to Papua New Guinea; a third world country, improvished with completely different asylum laws.

Many of these refugees arrive from countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, in an attempt to escape civil, ethnic or religious strife or bad economic conditions.

Photo: AFP

The international humanitarian community is up-in-arms about this. Political asylum, they say, is every human beings’ right and that the only reason these people attempt the dangerous journey, at the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers, is because they have nowhere else to go.

Demonstrators listen to speeches prior to a march through central Sydney on July 20, 2013 following the launch on July 19 of a hardline Australian government immigration crackdown. (AFP Photo / Greg Wood)

Photo: AFP

They also claim that Australia has no right to dump these people on a third country that is already struggling with its own economy, especially when compared to other Asian or European countries, the number of refugees arriving in Australia altogether is small.

The Australian authorities argue that this move is for the refugees’ own good. According to them, they are tired of people drowning in their waters and being taken advantage of. This announcement is a response to the fact that every month at least one boat, containing about 200 to 500 illegal immigrants, sinks off the coast of Christmas Island or Indonesia. In fact, just recently, a boat carrying around 175 people sank. Only 157 people survived, with many infants and children still missing.

Added to this are the terrible conditions at refugee camps in Malaysia, just one point in the long journey that refugees make on their way to Australia. They also claim that Australia already has a working system that deals with people who legally apply for asylum and a continuous influx of refugees who ‘jump the line’ causes it to slow down.

I wouldn’t blame them if they had other reasons; I’ve heard plenty of Pakistanis complain about the permeability of our own borders, about refugees taking up the governments’ money and attention, about their lawlessness.

According to a report by the UNHCR, Pakistan hosts over 1.6 million refugees from Afghanistan, the largest number anywhere in the world. This has led to the rise of the conservative Kalashnikov culture, in addition to smuggling, sectarian violence and drug trafficking.

Aref Karimi—AFP

Photo: AFP

If nothing else, these people are the ideal demographic from which terrorist outfits gain new recruits. According to a Pakistani government assessment, more than 90% of terrorist attacks in Pakistan are traced to Afghan refugee camps.

But everyone seems to be placing the blame at the wrong quarter.

Of course refugees have some place to go – their own countries. Nobody ever wants to leave their homeland, their families or their lives. Nobody wants to be packed into an airless container for God knows how long and risk drowning, suffocation, starvation, dehydration or fraud. The only people to be blamed here are the governments of the refugees’ home countries themselves. They are to be blamed for creating conditions that prompt regular people to abandon everything for less than the hope of a hope.

Photo: AFP

Pakistan, each and every Pakistani in fact, should be under fire for being silent at the treatment of the Hazara community.

Myanmar should be under fire for not dealing with its ethnic clashes.

The new governments formed as a result of the Arab Spring must be pressurised to provide infrastructure and make solid plans for economic development. The inactivity of these countries in protecting their own people is even more despicable than Australia’s reluctance to continue accepting a large number of foreigners with open arms.

The refugee problem is not about its destination, it is about its source. If efforts are not made to deal with the issues that cause these people to wish to immigrate, the deluge of impoverished, undocumented human beings will not stop. Poorer countries cannot lean on richer ones and at the same time resent them for their interference and attempts to safeguard themselves.

Frankly no one wants someone else’s problems on their hands and I don’t blame Australia for not wanting ours.

Sakina Hassan

Sakina Hassan

The author is currently studying for an Mphil degree at the Centre of Excellence in Solid State Physics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.